After completing my PhD, I was eager to start my career. I spent years studying theories, completing internships, buried in books and homework, and making a less than modest salary. I was 29 years old and just starting my first BIG girl BOSS job. Prior to embarking on a career, thoughts of imposter syndrome rain rapid—I doubted myself, my intelligence, and my capabilities—during the job search process, I even talked myself out of applying for certain positions because I deemed myself underqualified. As a black woman pursuing a career in higher education, I knew I wanted to work in a place that respected my authentic self, advocated for its employees, had supportive leadership, and a place where I could grow and excel.
Upon graduation, I interviewed for a position at a new university, and for a brand new position that had never previously existed. There was something special and frightening about being the “pioneer”—I was a young black female entrusted with the ability to create a blueprint for my successors to follow—I felt like I could be the chemist in the lab—testing different chemicals and seeing what worked and didn’t work. But then, of course, I soon thought about all the scary challenges—being new, young, black and female meant I was also under a microscope-every single move I made was watched, and carefully critiqued. It also meant, I was faced with a lot of undue pressure—I had high and some unrealistic expectations for myself, and of course I know others, had high expectations for me, and the position. I frankly was afraid of failure, and letting myself down.
It wasn’t until I conversation with a trusted mentor prior to starting the position that I realized I was on the brink of real change, a real career and personal transformation—I had the opportunity to make history. Many people enter positions that have existed for years, and have had to combat the challenge of being judged and evaluated by their predecessor—for me, I had the opportunity to truly leave by mark but most importantly find myself.
Here are some tips and strategies to navigating a new position:
Passion trumps everything
I didn’t care if I didn’t have all the knowledge or made a few mistakes. I once had a teacher tell me that “if you’re not made to feel uncomfortable, you’re not learning,” it’s okay not to know everything, and it’s okay to admit boldly you don’t know everything. Never sell a lie or a fabrication—it will cost you a job. I may not have known everything but I had passion and people seen it. I was intrinsically motivated to do the job and excel. I spoke boldly about why I chose a career in higher education administration and connected my career choice to life experiences, and my upbringing. A job can bring a lot of stress and anxiety but it is the passion that fuels you. Passion also became a way for me to separate myself from others.
Make use of your networking skills
When I first started my position, I met, talked and had discussions with everyone, those inside and outside of my department. Those directly and indirectly impacted by my work, and those who I would have minimal to no interaction with. I wanted people to know my name, my background and I wanted to learn more about what they do, and what they wanted to see out of someone in this role. I took notes on their wants/needs, noticed synergies between their goals and my goals, and this helped me develop a work plan of strategic goals. This also helped me understand how I could facilitate collaboration. Up until this position, I have always been a pretty independent worker-I actually loathed group work in college. However, I realized that in a demanding position, I needed to know who I could consult with, build alliances with and collaborate with. It allowed me to determine who had similar interests and who could help me in accomplishing the strategic goals I had set. I have always been a firm believer that you can’t take back a first impression, so make your first impression with your new colleagues bold. If you start a new position and are known as the person who doesn’t talk to people or reach across the aisle, that reputation is very hard to break.
Promote your work
Women of color are some of the hardest working people I know, but sometimes are accomplishments are sullied even by our own efforts. I quickly realized that if you want to keep a position, people have to know the work you’re doing. I became my own self-promoter—promoting my accomplishments to others-inside and outside my job and via social media. I worked fearlessly, boldly but most importantly, I worked hard. If you aren’t promoting yourself, it allows someone else to take credit for your own work.
Know how your work is being evaluated
It is important that you ask your supervisor the format and structure of your performance review process, and what criteria he or she uses to evaluate your work and accomplishments. Meeting with your supervisor early on to understand their supervision and management style is critical, it’s also important for them to share some goals and aspirations they have for you in the position. Understand how merit increases work, and what it takes to get them. Have frequent meetings with your supervisor to create transparency—it’s important that you share your accomplishments in this meeting so they are aware of the work you are doing.
Know your resources and your limitations
In higher education, resources are very limited, and limitations are often very grand. In a new position, you may come in having extraordinary and grand ideas, and others may have the same grand ideas for you. However, it is very difficult to implement grand ideas with limited resources. Know your budget, and your bottom line, and all of your goals should be in line with your budget. Figure out what you can, and can’t do but don’t confuse this with what you’re scared to do. Do the things you’re scared to do.